The Importance of “Soft” Skills

Let’s face it IT professionals aren’t typically known for their social skills.

Like I said in my previous post on “Stupid Users” you need to keep in mind that your job is to help people who aren’t as knowledgeable on IT matters as you are.

That involves communicating with people.

Communication is a “soft” skill. Soft means it’s fuzzy and can be difficult to quantify – which readily explains why people drawn to tech often have issues understanding the nuance of communication.

But most people – people who can help you get ahead professionally – are driven by fuzzy things – emotions.

The Monkey Mind

One of my studies over the years has been martial arts – American Kenpo (and others). As part of my studies, I dove into studying “self-defense” and more importantly self-protection.

Self-defense is in quotes, because most people don’t understand that the term “self-defense” is a legal term and that just because someone is studying martial arts doesn’t mean they’re studying how to keep themselves safe (I’ll do a post on that another time).

One of the big things I learned from people who have dealt with violence as part of their profession is that when most people become violent it’s due to an emotional build-up (if it’s not, you should be pissing down both legs).

The human brain evolved in stages (the lizard, the monkey, and the human). Despite what the vast majority people might think (myself included) – in the heat of the moment emotions control them.

Most people think that they can simply – think – their way out of anything. But the fact is that most people (not counting psychopaths) can’t think clearly when emotion is involved (it’s a hold-over form evolution – older parts of the brain take precedence over newer parts of the brain).

For our purposes here, emotions are generated by the “Monkey” portion of the brain (if you want to dive deeper see Conflict Communications by Rory Miller for more information).

Dealing With Emotions

Assuming that people are primarily driven by emotions, and most people are (remember the monkey), then it would follow that when you’re dealing with people, if you want to do it effectively you need to deal with their emotions first.

Yeah, your first response is likely to be “why should I have to be their emotional punching bag?” and that perspective is perfectly valid. However, they’re still experiencing emotions and you won’t be able to effectively communicate with them while their emotions are in high gear.

The trick is to separate their emotion from your reaction. As long as they’re not attacking – you – personally then you don’t have a dog in their emotional fight.

But that’s not to say that you should be cold – empathy is an important ingredient here. People need to – feel – like you care. Otherwise they’ll get defensive and then they might just start attacking you personally (or at least feel some disdain) and that’s only going to create a downward spiral, then good luck being able to help them.

All that being said, yeah it would be nice if the more emotional among us wouldn’t expect that the socially awkward bunch that we are, be perfectly equipped to handle their irrational outbursts. But that’s not life, so better for us to spend some time learning how to understanding others than adding to the mess.

And here’s a secret: you’ll get ahead a lot faster being both technically smart AND emotionally smart.

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